Ozan Atalan



16th Istanbul Biennial 'Seventh Continent', 2019

The stimuli simultaneously activate our cerebral cortex (where information is cognitively processed ) and amygdala (where our emotional reaction occurs). By genetic design, emotional reaction is the primary response of human brain to the outside reality for survival purposes.* The fast unconscious emotional response bases itself on whether it is good or bad for our biological existence. In this sense, the binary thinking turns out to be a profound factor for human evolution. I believe the binary thinking becomes problematic with the inclusion of the utilitarian aspects of the human culture.

Culture starts with imagining and fantasizing. But such imagination unfortunately turned out to be human’s praxis-oriented interpretation of the world. The non-human entities became a subject matter for cognitive transformation as well as excessive formal, chemical and physical transformation of the Earth’s sources. The supposed natural opposition between idea and form, the mundane and the exotic, the immanent and the transcendental, subject and object, information and feeling, the universal and the particular is actually a culturally constructed myth, which is a form of simulation claiming to be the reality itself. From a semiological perspective, this is how myths work: making the connection between the signifier and the signified look natural, which is actually an illusion of the natural. The problematic part of dominant cultures in the World is that they legitimate such an illusion, consider dualities as binary oppositions, therefore stories they create become our new truths. We can observe the same misunderstanding in the duality of the domestication and the wilderness, and this is where the installation becomes a part of the conversation about the nature – culture duality. 

The natural environments have an existence independent from human perception. They can also be called the wilderness in terms of being indifferent and neutral to human existence beyond any meanings ascribed to them. Yet domestication is an integral part of anthropological history. If we interpret domestication and the wilderness as polar oppositions, the relationship between nature and culture turns out to be a war of supremacy over each other. Polarization between the nature and the human brings together the existentialist anxities stemming from  human’s arrogance and excessive benefiting from the non-human beings. But any two components of the dialectical thinking are eventually dependent upon each other rather than in opposition to each other. In Taoist philosophy, strict distinctions and dichotomous existences are perceptual, not real and such dual parts mutually serve for one another’s existence in an unseparatable whole. In this sense, water buffalos, concrete, the land are all domesticated to the benefit of the humans stemming from the polar opposition between the human and the non-human, rather than seeing human and the non-human as a whole in harmony with each other. Breaking free from human-perception-based understanding of the world and rejecting the correlation between the human and the nature (because they are one single thing), my work is a display of the co-existence of the outcomes of a polarized duality of nature and culture. Influenced by Object Oriented Ontology and from a deanthropocentralized point of view, it is an embodiment of the co-existence of a destructed nature and a decadent culture, rather than the ideal balance and harmony of human and non-human entities. And the work imagines the ideal symbiosis of human and nature by showing the absence of such an ideal habitat.

During the creation of Monochrome, I kept asking these questions to myself: if human is inevitably an integral part of the nature, could even the destructive effects of the culture be a part the natural process? From this perspective, could even the most artificial material, or even the intangible cyber realities still be natural due to the fact that they are the transformed versions of the nature? Is it possible to be idealist and materialist at the same time in terms of showing the unbalanced relation of the nature-culture duality? If Anthropology has tendency to understand human life as lived, with no intervention, why wouldn’t art adopt a similar approach? The destroyed harmony between nature and culture ends up to the detriment of nature and my installation  employs the speculative aesthetics in order to show what it would look like if the broken balance of a duality becomes our new normal…as in the case of "new" Istanbul. 

Monochrome is a response to the destruction of home ranges of water buffalos around Istanbul with the urban intervention to the Northern Forests - including the new airport, third bridge over The Bosphorus, highways and malls. 

It is an effort to process the collective ecological grief, as an inevitable step for healing, not something to avoid as tabooed in our societies.


Curated by Nicolas Bourriaud

Photographs by Sahir Uğur Eren

*References about the Neural Underpinnings of Binary Thinking in the text: Transcending Polarization: Beyond Binary Thinking by Jack Denfeld Wood and Gianpiero Petriglleri